Today’s Wheel of Adventures has stopped at a wild spot in 2014. This is part one of a four part series about my African safari. . . so here we go!
Many folks have a dream to one day visit Africa on a safari. In June 2014 that dream came true for me – a real African safari provided by a highly experienced operator, Wilderness Safaris. Founded in 1983, Wilderness Safaris now operates 50 luxury camps covering eight million acres in 9 African countries. All their safaris are custom planned to create experiences from budget thru ultra-luxury, in response to travel agent requests world wide. Working with a long time agent friend, I chose a ten-person group adventure to the Okavango Delta region of Botswana in the southern part of Africa.
Johannesburg South Africa was the starting place with a two-hour airline flight to the town of Maun near the Delta where a small Cessna Caravan turboprop flew us onwards with a 30 minute flight to the first of three camps, Banoka, to start a week’s stay in three different types of terrain. This part of Africa varies from dry desert, hard salt pan, savannah forest, to lush swamp. Thus a fabulous chance to view a large variety of real African wildlife and flora. Banoka, as with the other two camps, is a fully closed loop environment of solar powered water and electricity with internet connection and ecologically neutral disposal of all human activity byproducts. The wildlife is fully protected from human intrusion as much as possible. In fact, as it turned out, we humans were mostly ignored by the local creatures!
Camp Banoka is laid out with a luxurious open-air central gathering lodge, individual raised-floor private tents scattered about, and a logistics center for employees and services. The daily activities generally follow a consistent schedule. Wake up call at 5:30 am, then at 6:00 am a ranger escorts you safely to the lodge for a light breakfast, (we are in a jungle filled with dangerous animals after all). One is not allowed to wander in the dark. At 6:30 am we board our Land Rover Defender 130 game drive vehicles with tiered seating. Since it’s fall in the southern hemisphere in June, the wake up temperature can be as low as 48° outside – and also 48° inside the tent! Land Rover’s have no windshield, so it’s freeze-face time. You wear your best Alaskan winter garb. Thankfully the seats are pre-heated with hot water bottles, which can keep hands warm for two hours under some flannel-lined rain ponchos.
We have no idea what we will see. Creatures may be everywhere or nowhere, (disappointment happens). Luckily our first full day is so wildlife-filled it amazes even our rangers. Impala and Kudu we see right away, then waterbuck and zebra – wow, so this is a real Safari, not a Disney Animal Kingdom. We are way excited by 8:30 am when we make a morning tea and biscuit stop (in a safe clearing naturally). The Land Rover front protective grating converts into a splendid bar top loaded with juices, nibbles, hot coffee and tea. Oh so veddy British. With the sun now rising – we left before dawn – off come the coats and hoodies as we resume our morning game drive, which concludes back at camp around 10:30 am.
Next, we gather in the central lodge for a lavish and tasty hot breakfast featuring a variety of both local and familiar delicacies. Since the evening game drive will not start until 4:30 pm after both a late lunch and afternoon tea time, we have a fine peaceful mid-day do-nothing period to enjoy. The day does warm up to maybe 80° or so, the jungle or forest becoming very peaceful and serene. I think the wildlife also enjoys this time of day, since not much goes on in their world between their breakfast and dinner. Up at dawn for a predator chase, then a nightly hunt for a warm meal. For the herbivores, it’s try to avoid the carnivores. It’s pretty simple; big cats get first dibs, then come the hyenas, finally vultures and insects. We saw a freshly killed cape buffalo in camp totally devoured over a three day period to just a bare skull.
Going out at dusk is very special – all the animals are active, the colors soften, sunsets are not to be missed. Just after sunset, out come the Land Rover bars once again – it’s cocktail time. By golly, so proper to swill a gin and tonic with hors d’ oeuvres as darkness and the night chill sets in. It does get spooky – sounds in the night – was that a lion’s roar, a hippo snort, anguished cry of an impala selected for a lion’s dinner? At night the rangers use red spot lights so as to not bother the wildlife eyes. And what sights and sounds; red-glowing-eye hyenas surrounding our vehicle while ripping a carcass to shreds, crunching bones, all with that shrieking laughter. Oh gosh, let’s get back to camp safety right away. Hey, it’s a safari, you asked for it.
Next up: More stories and photos of the rangers and staff at Camp Banoka, as well as a look at more safari wildlife in part two. After that, we’ll experience swamp and wetlands by boat and canoe, visit elephants, watch hippos, and more at Camp Xigera. Lastly we’ll stay at Duma Tau – leopards, giraffes, and lots of elephants.
Would you enjoy a real African safari?